Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the U.S. holiday where we honor the work and legacy of Dr. King. I’ve noted it before here. It’s worth remembering again. Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminds us to take note of the sacrifice required for a free society, of the bravery that it takes to stand up and say, “Enough.” It challenges us to remember that this work is not done.
The work of a free society requires more than one day a year or one week of lesson plans, though those are fine starts. It requires the commitment of every individual to decide where their lines in the sand are marked; what is acceptable and what is not; when can their voice make a difference. It requires every individual to be brave enough to stand up and speak out even when they are frightened, even when they don’t know if it will make any difference at all. You never know who is watching.
I live in a multicultural neighborhood. Part of why I live here is because I have neighbors who are black and white, asian and latino, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. We don’t all speak the same language and have the glorious challenge of learning to live together. My local grocery store has an excellent “ethnic” section because it must, to serve all of its customers. I delight in the variety of goods and faces I find in the market every time I go there.
I was in my local market this weekend picking up the sundries required for every day life. As I walked out I overheard a customer, a white man in his 50s, talking to a store employee, a white man in his early 20s. The older man was talking about how much he disagrees with the policies of our current presidential administration, that he resents his tax money being used to support the poor. I kept walking. He is entitled to his opinions. It was when he said, “I can’t get any of that free housing because I’m too white. If I had a baby mamma, maybe then I could cash in,” that I turned and walked back.
I asked him, “Do you know how racist that is? Do you know how you sound?” He started sputtering that he wasn’t a racist, he just hated the president. I listened until he wound down, then said, “You don’t know what you sound like. You don’t know whose lives that free housing might save. You don’t know who is around you and who might be watching or listening.” And I turned and walked away.
I’m certain I could have done more. I could have had a longer argument, but I wasn’t going to change his mind. What I hope is that I gave the young man, the man in his early 20s, a chance to think about something different. The opportunity to remember his school friends, his neighbors who may not look like him. What I hope is that I stopped one racist, for one moment, from spewing out his thoughtless invective over my neighborhood.
What I did is nothing compared with the work of Dr. King. But if we all were to stop, listen to ourselves and those around us, and try to consider the need to see people as people, separate from ethnicity or religion, we might be able to make more compassionate choices and engage in more balanced fiscal responsibility. When we do this en mass the possibilities are astonishing. When we speak out for a more equitable society we help build a world of more possibility.
And that’s what I’m doing, not only for Martin Luther King Jr. Day; I’m doing it every day. Please join me.
(c)2012 Laura S. Packer